The last time I spent the night in the desert was in the Atacama in Chile, and it was an unforgettable experience. When the opportunity to spend the night in the Iranian desert presented itself, I wasn’t going to miss the chance.
Our group of 16 friends, old and new, met at the Parkway intersection in Tehran at 8 am on Thursday, and by 8:30, we were on the road headed south towards Esfahan. Along the way, we stopped at the Maral rest area for a big breakfast buffet, our last glimpse of civilization for the next 36 hours. Once we passed Kashan, it wasn’t long until Abyaneh where we took a detour in the direction of Matin Abad. We passed the village to get to our destination: Karshahi Fortress, where we were going to camp out under the stars. About another hour from the the village, the fortress began to make an appearance from the distance. As we got closer, it was just like a little oasis in the vast desert- a pool of water next to some century-old ruins, pomegranate trees (which sadly only had dried pomegranates since the season was over), and the magnificent Karshahi Fortress itself.
|The front watchtower and entrance|
As soon as we set up our tents for the night, we set out to explore the fortress. Also known as the Thieves’ Castle, Karshahi Fortress used to be the operational center for a gang of robbers that spread horror and fear throughout the caravan roads at the end of the 19th century until the end of the Qajar dynasty. The super thick walls are made of mud and adobe. The fortress has 5 watchtowers and is surrounded by a moat. The front watchtower now has two holes in it, which used to hold cannons. Upon entering the fortress, there is a giant hole in the ground which used to be the pool, very typical of Persian architectural styles at the time. It only takes a little imagination to picture what this place looked like and the hustle and bustle that went on here in its heyday about 130 years ago. The built-in shelves on the walls are still there, almost untouched. If you are brave enough to climb up the slowly deteriorating walls and get on top of one of the watchtowers, you’ll have a better view of the entire fortress and a great spot to watch the sunset/sunrise. The shadow and light within the fortress also makes for some wonderful photography. According to the locals, there are three tunnels that run to the mountains behind, as well as a series of secret passageways under the fortress itself. I searched around for some opening, and while I did find what seemed to be pathways to the underground, they had sadly been caved in.
|The center of the Fortress and what used to be the pool|
At night, I laid down to stargaze. With no light pollution, I could make out Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper (دب اکبر dobe Akbar), the Little Dipper (دب اصغر dobe Asghar), and about a billion other stars. For the first time in my life, I even saw a shooting star! It was truly a breathtaking sight, and one that was very reminiscent of the crystal clear skies of the Atacama.
After a freezing night in which neither my sleeping bag nor my tent kept me remotely warm, I was finally comforted by the morning sun and greeted by a herd of goats who had come to take a sip of water in the pool next to our camp site.
There is something so spectacularly peaceful about the desert in particular. I would highly recommend a stop at this [unfortunately] abandoned site, which is now frequented by desert trekkers and campers. If you don't want to live too primitively, you can stay at the eco-camp in Matin Abad (about an hour away), which already has tents pitched outside, showers, a teahouse, and camels (should you choose to go for a ride). But if you are up for a nice get away from civilization and don't mind rudimentary toilet conditions, you can pitch your own tent right next to Karshahi Fortress, in the desert of a billion stars.